If a strong sense of community is the sign of a healthy town on the rise, then Birregurra is the treechange town to watch.
“There are book clubs, sporting clubs, music groups, you name it,” says local bed and breakfast operator, Chris Barter. “There is even a group of people learning how to play the zither. I could think of about 20 or 30 community groups (here).”
All this despite the Victorian town – which is west of Geelong and inland of the famed Great Ocean Road – having a mere 500 residents. And it’s only destined to grow.
Largely unknown outside of south-western Victoria, it has taken out the number one spot in our Trading Places series, owing to its excellent connections to surrounding areas, affordable housing, low unemployment, local produce and postcard-pretty landscapes.
What’s to love
Located at the foothills of the Otway Ranges, Birregurra (or “Birre” to locals) has a charming village feel, helped by the many historic churches that dot its streets.
“Whether you arrive from the north, the south or the east, the town is very pleasant to roll into,” says Mr Barter, owner of the local bed and breakfast, 1865.
For those who travel into Melbourne occasionally for work, the Victorian capital is only one hour and 40 minutes away, while Geelong is just 55 minutes by car.
Unemployment is relatively low, and while there are fewer food options than larger towns, what is available is first-rate.
Renowned for its fertile, arable soils, the area produces some of the best beef, lamb and certified grass seed in the country.
Then there is Brae. Awarded Restaurant of the Year in the 2015 edition of The Age Good Food Guide and given three chef hats, Brae is run by former Royal Mail Hotel of Dunkeld chef Dan Hunter and his wife, Julianne Bagnato.
“We have been here a year and the town is really dynamic, things are happening,” says Mr Hunter.
“People are wanting to see progress in the town that is beneficial for everyone.”
Our researchers found Birregurra to have good road and rail connections (it is on the Warrnambool line and enjoys three trains daily), plus it’s affordable, particularly when compared to Geelong or nearby Lorne.
The Birregurra Festival and Art show is definitely worth going out of your way for. Held every October, it features food and wine, produce from the Otways, street theatre, stalls and entertainment.
Year-round there is the Birregurra Farm Foods and Providore’s delicious local produce and the Gentle Annie Berry Farm, where you can pick your own berries, is just a short drive away.
You can also pick up a piece of furniture or artwork from the Treehouse Gallery, which celebrates local timber, and quench your thirst at the renovated Royal Mail Hotel pub, which also does a decent feed. If you decide to make a weekend of it, there are some delightful B&Bs in Birregurra.
What the locals say
This is a town with genuine connections among the local residents, who readily champion each other’s businesses.
Mr Barter made a treechange to the area four years ago and reckons he knows more people now than he ever did in bustling Melbourne.
“In Melbourne, I tended to see my friends from university and my family, but not my neighbours,” he says.
Move over Beechworth, Daylesford and Castlemaine, there is a new food lover’s paradise on Victoria’s map.
Gourmands will delight in Birregurra’s excellent produce and food, and at such close proximity to Melbourne, it’s a day-trip for most, whether you come by car or train.
Expect the town’s permanent population to swell accordingly.
To explore properties in Birregurra, click here.
All photos courtesy of Colin Page.